When you’ve got the legs and lungs to be one of the hot shots in town, it’s easy to be the star. Take to the podium, be lauded for your accolades. We see it at every level, from the pros to everyday stars. Have a start and finish line and stack up a pile of competitors, and let the battle ensue.
That’s not Jeramie Hoff’s way.
Hoff, a 47-year-old environmental specialist with Volkswagen of America, has left behind all the stress and aggression that came in his youth while road racing. Even the popularity in the late 1990s and 2000s of cross country racing has waned in his heart. It took another kind of chaos—the pandemic—to introduce him to gravel two years ago. And with it, he’s found an inner peace.
“I did start racing back in high school on road bikes, did the junior road racing things, and moved through the USCF ranks as a Cat 2, and was a mountain bike semi-pro," the Chattanooga, Tenn. resident says. He also recalls his first dalliance with Litespeed back in the 1990s, owning several Litespeed mountain bikes during what he calls, “the heyday of the golden ‘90s."
“I still loved mountain biking, but lately, things moved away from cross country to more progressive riding, something that went more toward big trail and even downhill riding," he adds, "and that is a bit much for me these days.”
Along came the pandemic, and a desire to get away from it all, get out of the house, into in the trees, and on the trails. He began exploring the Ocoee area, and the Cherokee National Forest with its hundreds of miles of backcountry gravel roads, on one of his newest acquisitions at the time: the Litespeed Ultimate Gravel. He then began to see a new lease in his ride experience.
“Of course, races stopped. But as I started getting older, I began stepping away from some of the things I did earlier,” he says. “Cycling has always been a part of my life, but it’s become not necessarily how fast I can go. It’s about being the best 40-something-year-old I can be. The best competition you can face is yourself at this stage in the game.”
And gravel was that ticket.
“We’re blessed with numerous options for gravel around here. It allows you to explore in the backcountry, to be in nature, as remote as you want to make it. And it blends with the speed of road racing,” Hoff says. “For me, it’s the perfect blend of the two—gravel is the perfect catalyst.”
And the ride was less about anyone else competing against him; it was about testing himself. It was summated nicely with a pandemic virtual event.
“A local organization called Tennessee Gravel hosted a series of virtual individual time trials,” he recalls. “You did these three loops—the shortest was 70 miles, the longest 130 miles—totally unsupported and on your own, and submitted your Strava or Garmin file to verify your loop and time."
“There was a leaderboard and whoever had the lowest cumulative time won… and I won my age group,” he adds. “I had a blast, and it was wonderful to have something to look forward to. But being out there alone, it was great to challenge myself, while out on these beautiful courses.”
In the two years he’s been dashing about the Southeast on his Ultimate Gravel, he remains steadfast in his love for titanium.
"Titanium really is the best application for gravel bikes,” he says. “The durability, weight, strength, it’s all there. When I’m in a pack and rocks are flying and hit my frame, I know it’s all good. And being a longtime Litespeed rider, I knew it was going to ride fantastic.”
With pandemic restrictions eased, races are back. Hoff is signed up for races again. He’s already notching wins, including the win at the 88-mile Waucheesi Bike Race with its 4,100 feet of climbing over 88 miles. He also has a few different things slated to tote his Ultimate Gravel to, including a four-day stage race in Pennsylvania later this year. But charging to the front simply to make a podium isn’t his driver anymore.
“It’s just about being the best you that you can be,” Hoff says. “That’s where I am with it, and I’m happy about it!”